Hang on, I’m Telling a Story

Okay, so . . . it gives me great personal satisfaction to announce that at long (long, long, long) last, I’m on submission! Like, real. Official. Submission. To publishing houses!

Which means all kinds of fun possibilities, like adequate sleep and a return to rational thought, but especially that I get to have a life again, and read books and go out with friends, and other far less glamorous things, like raking the flowers beds.

Overall, I feel that I’m taking this on-submission thing rather well. I am composed. In fact, Tess and Maggie have both expressed alarm at my general tranquility (read: glacial). I started thinking about that. If I’m honest, I do tend to meet most large-scale developments with far more composure than, say, getting a flat tire or finding out that Vitaminwater has discontinued their line of energy drinks. Actually, it’s pretty unreasonable.

So, in honor of my contextually inappropriate self-possession, today I’m offering up definitive proof that I can be just as histrionic as anyone else. What follows is for posterity, and most especially for Tess and Maggie.

Now, I am going to tell you the Centipede Story.

First, some background:

I spent my formative years in rural Arkansas. Arkansas is home to many things, including giant moths, biting flies, and an impressive variety of weird, phosphorescent beetles.

What I’m saying is, I’ve shaken my fair share of cockroaches out of my fair share of bath towels. I was not, at that time, afraid of much when it came to things with lots of legs. I was not, for instance, afraid of centipedes.

We eventually relocated to Colorado and moved into a big sprawling house that had been divided into haphazard apartments. For the purpose of this story, its two most important features were a crawl-space underneath the floor and a cheerful girl in Apartment C who came from someplace wholesome like Duluth. She hated spiders, which was really too bad, because there were a lot of spiders in the crawl-space.

One day, in a fit of shortsightedness, she crawled down under the house and set off a bug-bomb. Suffice it to say, the bugs didn’t like it. In fact, they didn’t like it so much that they coordinated a mass exodus and came surging up through the heating vents. For the rest of the week, we could hear our poor wholesome neighbor screaming through the walls.

But we in Apartment B were made of stronger stuff. Sister Yovanoff and I were brave and rural and shockingly scientific. Sometimes, if a particularly weird-looking bug showed up, we’d put it in a jar and study it. We were placid. Occasionally (dare I say it?), self-righteously so.

Then one day I was standing at the sink, experimenting with makeup. I should point out that I was about twelve years old when this story takes place, and I was not very good with makeup. This is only important in the sense that, for the purpose of the narrative, you have to imagine that I’m wearing a lot of eyeliner. Like, a lot.

I stepped back from the mirror to admire the effect and instead of linoleum, my foot came down on something cold, hard, prickling, and moving.

I’m not a big person, and at age twelve, my ankles were about the size of a normal person’s wrists. I was what one might term slight. What I’m getting at here is, a centipede that is considered “giant” by a normal-sized person is verging on colossal when I’m twelve years old and wearing it as an anklet.

I looked down, and if you are in any way squeamish, don’t click these links. When you think centipede, you might be thinking these guys, which are kind of gross, but ultimately manageable. The titan that had come up out of the heating vent wasn’t manageable. It was this guy. And it was spiraling around my ankle and up my leg like the stripe on a barber poll.

For the first time in my life, I did the Bug Dance. You know the one. It involves shrieking, howling, flailing. I hopped around the bathroom on one foot in all my smoky-eyed glory, waving my arms and trying to shake that sucker off, and its little scratchy legs were going scratchy-scratchy up my calf and I am not ashamed to say that I carried on like an absolute lunatic.

It surprised me. I had not known, for instance, that I could scream like I was being murdered. I had not known that I could become irrationally phobic. Which I subsequently did. Not only of all centipedes ever (even itty-bitty tiny ones), but also of every single heating vent in the entire house. It was educational. Possibly damaging. Damagingly educational?

Looking back, there are many worst parts to this story. There’s the actual centipede, of course. And the self-righteous smugness that preceded it, and my enthusiastic and tragic eye-makeup, and the bald shock of finding out that I wasn’t nearly as brave as I liked to think I was, but looking back, I think the most daunting part of all was when I tried incoherently and somewhat hysterically to explain the incident to my mother, who can always be counted on to go right to the heart of things.

In typical my-mother fashion, she looked at me for a second and then said, “But honey, you’ve just never been afraid of bugs.”

I responded with a piteous cry, a positive wail: “But now I am!”

26 thoughts on “Hang on, I’m Telling a Story

  1. This story made me laugh, a lot. I’m sorry. >:) The photos, on the other hand, made me do the bug shiver.
    We must all have such encounters in our younger days. Once I was barefoot and jumped down from my bunk bed. My toes curled around something slightly hard and slightly hairy. The lights were off though, so I didn’t realize the true horror until I turned them on. It was a giant wolf spider!! I never screamed so loud in my life. Turns out, the poor thing was dead from my aerial assault. That’ll teach ’em!!!

    • No, no, no, you can laugh. I certainly do. (Many years after the fact, but I do laugh.)
      Now, I have nothing at all against wolf spiders, but I would *not* like to step on one!

  2. Oh dear. I can totally imagine a) this whole incident and b) you and your Mom having the subsequent conversation. I even know what you looked like when you were twelve, which makes the whole thing that much more awesome.
    I saw a live, three-inch black scorpion on the bikepath yesterday. I have no idea what it was doing there, since those things are no native to this area. A later passer-by reported it as carefully squished flat on the yellow center stripe. My best theory is that it was someone’s exotic pet that was somehow let loose.

    • I can totally imagine a) this whole incident and b) you and your Mom having the subsequent conversation.
      Oh, man, the conversation still amuses me, in part, simply because it is not at all atypical!

  3. Yay for submissions. I’m about to do another round of submissions.I think for non fiction my platform wasn’t big enough. I need to have a public or media profile. To be fair I most probably wasn’t ready anyway. My writing wasn’t strong enough. I have a lot of faith in you, and big news is not to far away.
    On bugs. Not so bad, but I did have a rat run across my foot when I was seventeen. I did the Jim Carey dance and face and nearly fainted. Yes farmers are tough in New Zealand. It was a big rat! As big as a dog! I’m brave now.

    • I’ve never actually seen a wild rat (besides a nutria, but I don’t think that counts), though we have lots of mice around here. For some reason, things with fur–anything–bothers me far less than things without. Warm blood just seems far less alarming.
      Good luck with your submissions!

  4. I am very Very VERY Satisfied with this anecdote. It reminds me of when I was 10 or so and became phobic of fog for about 6 months, because of a book called PLANT PEOPLE.
    But my anecdote does not involve actual Plant People, while yours does involve actual centipedes. Which makes me happy. Also, we have many centipedes in VA, but they don’t look like either of those things. Ours have many many many more legs and look almost furry because of it. Yeah, these.
    Also, now you’ve made me get fascinated by the giant ones. Don’t you want one as a pet?

    • No, no, you don’t understand–my mom was scheming to catch one, so then we could have it. In the house. All the time.
      Also, they are good. I keep telling myself this. I know–intellectually know–that they are good, because they eat everything (including mice, which is disturbing), and also because to its credit, I stood on the thing and it didn’t even try to bite me. But it still frightens me that they exist.
      The longest one we ever found was over nine inches. It was dead, so it had shriveled a little. That is far too big to be allowed.

  5. I will never forget the sound of the screaming…Incidentally, I was terrified of heating vents for many years as well.
    –Sister Yovanoff

  6. I shouldn’t have clicked the links…. I feel like it’s crawling on me too now.
    I’m already not a fan of bugs. From a distance I feel brave against them, but when I’m face to face with them my instinct says kill or run (and it’s usually just run and have someone else kill them).

  7. Ants are my phobia. Not single ants by themselves, oh no– those are easy to kill– but huge, swarming masses, that get everywhere and into everything and you can’t possibly kill them all. When I was ~4 or so, my parents took me to a park in Texas, where you get those huge fire ants. Being a typical four-year old, I ended up throwing a temper tantrum– over what, I don’t even remember anymore– and in my brilliance, I toddled over to hug a tree and cry. The ants crawling on the trunk were not too happy about this.

    My mom tells me the screaming could be heard throughout the park, lol.

      • No worries! (I don’t really adhere to the rules of the internet—this is an all-conversation all-the-time zone.)

        And OMG, fire ants! I’ve never really seen them around here—we just have these biggish red ones that I always *assumed* were fire ants when I was little because of the color, but they’re not remotely aggressive and I liked hang out by their hill and feed them snacks. Then I went out of state to visit my grandmother and was tromping around in woods with no socks on. And then I met an actual fire ant. With my ankle. And no joke, that bite was worse than a bee-sting! I cannot imagine hugging a whole colony O_o

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